This was the ad that first caught my attention and got me thinking:
“What are they trying to say here?”
Some parsing of the copy is in order.
‘When does nature surprise you…’ well, since nature’s surprises are often in the form of extreme events like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and blizzards, perhaps it’s better that nature doesn’t surprise me any more than it does. Granted, a sunbreak on a cloudy day or an unusually fine sunset might qualify as well, but my first connotation with the words “nature” and “surprise” is not necessarily benign.
‘…with unexpected flavor?’ Here is a puzzling construction. I, for one, do not consider flavor in my food to be an unexpected event, but rather the normal course of affairs. Actually, an “unexpected” flavor might be a signal that something is amiss (is this tomato really a pear? Am I too late to the peaches?), rather than a positive selling point. Especially if that unexpected flavor is a surprise. Which is redundant anyway. Obviously, surprises involve the unexpected; how else could it work? Logic and I are quietly slipping from the copywriter’s grasp; we have to go now.
Wait! There’s an answer on page 2! This wasn’t a rhetorical question after all! ‘When you use all natural ingredients from start to finish.’ Oh, I see now! But hold on here-when I use all natural ingredients, I’m supposed to be surprised that it tastes good? How does that work? What were you using before, and how did it taste then? Hello? Anyone there?
Yes, Paul Roberts, you’ve had your hand up for a while.
“…the rigors of the manufacturing process have required the development of an entirely new job description-the food engineer-to actually change the molecular structure of the food.”(The End of Food, p. 45)
Interesting. Go on…
“…additives are generally made from industrially available materials…much cheaper than their natural counterparts.” (Ibid, p. 46)
So, what you’re saying is that scientists have re-constructed food using industrial products? But why?
“Food additives, and food engineering generally, have allowed companies to…simplify…a very complex process…and thus gain a considerable measure of control over costs.” (Ibid, p. 47)
I see. So they make more money that way. But how does it affect us as consumers?
“…many of us have become so accustomed to the synthetic version that we actually prefer it to the original.” (Ibid, p. 47)
Wow. So we actually like the fake stuff better than the real thing. Odd as that may sound, it does help to explain why a snack-food company would have to go to such lengths to sell natural ingredients as having flavor. They’ve got to undo years of marketing and manufacturing which have reinforced the opposite message. Of course, the “all natural…from start to finish” story only applies to half of the company’s products, and it’s a sure bet that genetically modified corn and wheat will be in the final mix too. That will arguably reduce the “natural” content somewhat, depending on one’s view of GM products.
Where does that leave us? Am I surprised that a snack-food company is hopping on the natural bandwagon? Not really. We’ve seen that doing good can be good business. We’ve also seen that, absent a true ethical conversion, the only way to shift a corporate actor into right behavior may be to wave dollars at it when it behaves the way we want it to. Am I surprised that the snack-food company only got it partly right? Not really, for two reasons: one, it’s a profit motive instead of an ethical imperative; two, it’s going to take a long time to turn around a ship that size, and I’ll give them points for trying. I guess my real surprise was at the original premise of the ad: that flavor in nature would surprise me at all.
NEXT: A “NATURAL DEATH”